God has place this wonderful creation in our hands. As U2 sings, "It's a beautiful day, don't let it slip away." We have this one life to live on this beautiful planet so enjoy these reflections on God, faith, life, and music. "After the flood all of the colors came out. It's a beautiful day."

Saturday, September 26, 2015

Why Do We Bless Aninmals?

RiverSong at Matthiessen State Park
Be praised, my Lord, through all Your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and You give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness.
Be praised, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
and clouds and storms, and all the weather,
through which You give Your creatures sustenance.
                        St. Francis of Assisi, Canticle of the Sun

When I lived in Rome, one of the school trips we took was to Assisi. While on our way back to our hotel, we came across these Franciscan monks who had a circle of people around them. In their brown robes, sandals and oddly shaved heads, they were dancing and singing about a monkeys and bananas. There was such joy from the monks who were dancing and the kids who were joining in. There was laughter and music. These monks joined an order that follows the rule of Francis – vowing poverty and vow to practice acts of kindness. These simple joyful monks roused my curiosity to learn more about Francis. 
Francis was known as a saint who joyfully sings to nature and loves creation. The hymn All Creatures of Our God and King is based on his prayer the Canticle to the Sun. There are many stories of St. Francis with animals. One story has Francis making a trip through the Spoleto Valley. When he notices a great variety of birds. He ran up to the birds. Instead of taking flight, the birds waited for him and he spoke to them,
“My brother and sister birds, you should praise your Creator and always love him: He gave you feathers for clothes, wings to fly and all other things that you need. It is God who made you noble among all creatures, making your home in thin, pure air. Without sowing or reaping, you receive God’s guidance and protection.”
The birds responded by spreading their wings and stretching their necks. Francis walked among them blessing them. Francis rejoiced and from that day he started inviting all creation to praise their Creator. One of the traditions associated with St. Francis is the blessing of the animals which occurs on the day closest to his birth, October 3rd.
       The question has been asked: why are we blessing animals. In Genesis 1, we learn that God created all creatures on the earth and pronounced them Good. We want to be part of that message that creation is good and loved. So we are inviting the community to bring their favorite animals, to receive a blessing. We will provide time for us to remember those who have lost a companion animal. We will fellowship together over hot chocolate and cookies, and dog treats. Why are we doing this? We are going to be trying a number of new events designed to show that we as a congregation are kind and want to bring the gospel to our community. Some of these new things may do well and we will do them again. Some of them may not succeed and then we will evaluate whether to try them again. You are encouraged to come to show the community our kindness. We encourage you to invite friends and family, neighbors and strangers to come and experience God’s love of all creation.
God of the Sparrow 

Monday, September 14, 2015

The Cries of Labor Have Reached the Ears of the Lord of Hosts

Work and the Bible, Part 3

5Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you. 2Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten. 3Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure for the last days. 4Listen! The wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. 5You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts on a day of slaughter. 6You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you. James 5:1-6
 I have been preaching on the book of James for the last 5 weeks. This week was chapter five. I ignored the section above and focused on prayer, partly because I have been preaching a lot of social justice with James and thought we should end on a positive uplifting note. But this passage from James has been popping in and out of my thoughts all week. Last year I was one of those laborers. Ok not a farm laborer, but a hourly worker who felt a lot of angst in my work and a sense that the flow of profits was heading up the line of production, but didn't get spread to most people even if you were in management.

I worked for a good Wisconsin Company, touted by the powers that be for supplying jobs in South West Wisconsin. A company that used to be trust worthy. A company that provided real Wisconsin cheese and chocolates. A company that help supply jobs to a poor farming community. A company with a great back story about a young man who while in school came up with a dream mail order business. Upon graduating in the 1920's he started this business in his basement and for the next 30 years he worked at the business growing it until he in the 1960s he was able to sustain porfits enough to quit his other job. This mail order business transitioned to a direct marketing company. The company bought up other product lines that sold clothes, dishes, bedding, decor. Expanding its profits and reach. This company also began to dable in credit. It started servicing the accounts of other direct marking companies. The son and grandson now control the direction of the company. Under their leadership, the product has gone down hill. But the profits from the credit side of the business have increased exponentially through tactics that get the consumer to purchase on their credit plan, paying a minimum balance with interest.

So part of my=e wants to shout to this company the words of James about labor and riches.
9 Let the believer who is lowly boast in being raised up, 10and the rich in being brought low, because the rich will disappear like a flower in the field. 11For the sun rises with its scorching heat and withers the field; its flower falls, and its beauty perishes. It is the same with the rich; in the midst of a busy life, they will wither away.James 1:9-10
 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? 2For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, 3and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, ‘Have a seat here, please’, while to the one who is poor you say, ‘Stand there’, or, ‘Sit at my feet’, 4have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? 5Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? 6But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? 7Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? James 2:1-7
James has hope that the rich will wither away and the lowly will be raised up. That the cries of the laborer will be heard by God and the wealthy will be brought low. That their pain in their work life will be heard. That those working for the above company: who make 9-10 dollars and hour, for less than 30 hours a week except during peak. Who are schedule only a week in advance and give to the company a block of time between 35 and 45 hours. Those laborers who are not giving paid benefits. Who receive no pay for time off ( even if there are options for switching your schedule and taking time off without losing your job). Those workers who are encouraged to sell products that tear and shred, that break and scratch, that come spoiled or with such a small amount for such a high cost with no free shipping. Those workers who must invite the use of credit and encourage people to pay automatically with only the minimum payment allowed. Those workers who have little or no chance to earn the bonuses offered. The workers who offsite share in the expense of doing business by having to pay for the separate phone line and the separate high speed cable bill. The company has passed this business expense on to the employees with out giving compensation for the expense. This company that encourage people to sign up for Obamacare rather than providing healthcare benefits, after all you are not a full time employ. O wait we don't allow you to be a full-time employee. We make sure that you don't work enough hours to get unemployment when we lay you off during the non peak times.

This passage from James hopes that eventually the rich will be called to account for their actions. The rich will be judged before The Judge who will speak to them of what they have done to those who work for them. The Holy One will speak to them of their wrong and seek retribution. I wish James were right. I wish God would swoop down and Judge. I wish God would come and even out the playing field making the people who labor hourly paid a wage that allows them all the necessities of life (schooling, housing, food, utilities, healthcare, transportation, and some of the luxuries). I wish God sometimes would come down and bring fairness and equty to our economic lives so everyone's needs and many of their wants are met.

But, James was written a long time ago and we are still waiting for God. So God must have another plan. A plan that probably involves you and me becoming the ones we have been waiting for. The ones who speak up about inequitable salaries, about healthcare that while better is stilling going to drag us into debt if we actually need to use it. To demand changes to the system so that the minimum wage is a more than livable wage. To change the economic policies that favor owners to support those who labor.
 While they're standing in the welfare lines
Crying at the doorsteps of those armies of salvation
Wasting time in the unemployment lines
Sitting around waiting for a promotion

Poor people gonna rise up
And get their share
Poor people gonna rise up
And take what's theirs
Talking About a Revolution Tracy Chapman

For more on my thoughts on work and the bible:

What Does the Bible Have to Say about Work? Work and the Bible, Part 1

We are Created To Feed Each Other, Work and the Bible, Part 2

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Beauty from Brokeness

Shelf Mushroom, Hinckley, IL
Shelf Mushroom Hinckley, IL
Shelf Mushroom Hinckley, IL
The tree outside my front door had this weird blob growing on it. I hoped that the blob didn’t mean some disease had taken over the tree and was going to lead to the tree’s death. This blob began to grow and change. There is still parts that look very blob like. Recently this blob has become a mushroom. A rather large mushroom that I caught the squirrels nibbling. From one moment to the next, it seemed the mushroom appeared. Not a little growth but a form of beauty.
Now I admit I know very little about mushrooms and trees, but I know that mushrooms grow in dead and decaying material. So this tree which has green leaves must have some hidden decay. This is not a good sign for the tree in front of my house for it means while the green leaves and the mushroom create an image of wonder. The tree is hurt, maybe broken beyond repair.  I can’t help the song running through my head,
Shelf Mushroom Hinckley, IL
Beauty from brokenness,
Hope for despair
Lord, in your suffering

This is our prayer
                             Graham Kendrick
There is beauty to be found in that mushroom even though it means the tree may be broken. We are never promised a life that will be free of pain, sorrow, death, hurt. Each of us will be touched at some point with the brokenness of the world or our lives. Those moments of pain and sorrow, of emptiness and hurt, are places where we are in the most need of healing, but also the places where we are most likely to seek out an answer or help. It is not easy, it takes work to live in the pain, live through the pain and move eventually toward beauty and light. When we look at our wounds, when we learn about our wounds, we are often able to begin to feel and experience the light, the beauty of the world. It is in those moments of brokenness that we can grow to take stock of the beauty in the mushroom growing unexpectedly.  Rumi once wrote:
“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.”
May your broken places be filled with the light.